On August 28, we bid farewell to Paul and Natalie and began our journey south. We had spent over two weeks travelling together, 10 days of which we were on the Dempster. From encouraging us to get off the beaten path, to entertaining walkie talkie comms, late night snacks (fresh cooking stove popcorn!!) and oh so valuable fishing knowledge and tackle, this trip would not have been the same without them.
From the Dempster we set our sights to Whitehorse, where we knew we could find some much needed amenities: showers and laundry! Readers are probably noting a pattern here. In all honesty though, the frigid stream-side showers were not cutting it! We spent just one night in Whitehorse; getting clean, stocking our cooler, and dining out. Such luxuries! We also fit in an oil change for our car Sue at the 9900 km point of our trip, before hitting the road again eastward to Kluane National Park and Reserve. As we neared the park, snow capped peaks began to appear on the horizon and we knew we’d made the right decision to spend our last few days in the Yukon in this area.
Our first evening was spent at the Pine Lake territorial campground, just outside Haines Junction, YT. This Yukon campground has 42 nicely trees sites, some with views of the lake. We weren’t lucky enough to secure one of these as we arrived later in the evening, but we managed to find a quiet site and cooked our dinner over the fire. The next morning we accidentally slept in to the unusually late hour of 9:40am. Without the sounds of Paul starting coffee in the morning, we overslept! Oops… We quickly stopped by the beach at the day use area of the campground. Antoine flew the drone for better views of the nearby mountains, while I tested the temperature of the water. A raft floated on the lake, seemingly enticing swimmers, and I have to say this was the warmest water I’d felt so far in the Yukon! If we’d had more time, I would’ve loved to swim, but with plans for a day hike we set off south down the highway towards Kathleen Lake.
A Parks Canada campground is situated on Kathleen Lake, a crystal clear lake that is backed by the Kluane Range. Based on recommendations from the Kluane Visitor’s Centre we’d decided to try the King Throne trail, and possibly the King Throne Summit route if time permitted. The hike description promised a steep route with sweeping views of the lake, and estimated that the 10km round trip hike would take between 4-6 hours. We ate lunch lakeside in the day use hut, warmed by a wood fire. The winds were really strong and chilly, whipping across the lake. We hoped the hike would be sheltered from the winds, as they seemed to be coming from the direction of the mountain.
Oh how wrong we were… The first 2km of the trail followed the lake but was protected from wind by thick forest. The fall colours were starting to show in the vegetation along the trail: bright yellows, oranges, reds and pinks! The trail began to climb steeply after the 2km mark, leaving the trees and their shelter behind us. We climbed along rock covered switchbacks towards the throne of the mountain, with spectacular views of the lake below us. The wind increasingly blasted us as we continued upwards, though, making the hiking more difficult. No one likes a headwind! We reached the throne in an hour and 15, and sought a quick reprieve from the wind to consume snacks in a groove in the mountain. We decided not to continue to the summit given the winds – it would not have been an enjoyable hike. We returned down the mountain back to our car, finishing the trail in 2.5 hours.
From there we returned to Haines Junction for a delicious dinner at The Village Bakery. We tried the lentil shepherd’s pie, a pepperoni cheese bun, an espresso square and a two layer brownie. We washed this down with local Birch Sap beer by Yukon Brewing. Mmmmm!
We continued east after dinner to Congdon Creek campground, on Kluane Lake, the Yukon’s largest lake. We didn’t have great views of the lake up arrival, though, due to a dust storm. We initially thought the clouds were thick fog or rain, but learned the next day at the Tachal Dhal Visitor’s Centre that winds through the Slims River / A’ay Chù valley stir up glacial silt which forms thick clouds in the valley and lake area. Congdon Creek is known for high grizzly bear use, and a tent enclosure with electric fence has recently been installed for tents. Tenting was previously prohibited in this campground. We felt rather safe in Sue though, and had no sightings or encounters with bears while at the campground. The black flies were very thick at this site though!!
Having learned from our mistake the day prior, we set an alarm for the next morning to ensure we started our hike of the Sheep’s Creek trail before noon. This 10km hike promised gorgeous views of the valley and surrounding mountains, and the possibility of viewing the toe of the Kuskawash Glacier in the distance. The weather forecast was not promising, calling for a 60% chance of rain. But as we’ve learned on this trip, forecasts can’t be trusted in the Yukon! We ended up having beautiful weather for the full 2.5 hours of our hike on the Sheep’s Creek trail, with excellent visibility of the Kuskawash glacier and snow capped mountains around us.
The fall colours were just starting in Kluane, a bit behind the mountains along the Dempster. We met a nice Belgian couple and a German family on this hike. The German family were kind enough to take our photo at the top of the trail, so no selfies required this time! We’d wanted to continue along the ridge route to the summit of the mountain, but looking at the time we realized we needed to start our drive back to Whitehorse and onwards. We hoped to make it 4 hours past Whitehorse to shorten our drive to Stewart, BC the next day. We hurried down the trail, just as the winds began to pick up glacier silt in the valley below us. It seems we’d had a perfect weather window for our hike! At the end of the hike we spotted a large herd of Dall sheep on the mountainside above us. I counted at least 30 of them in our binoculars.
We hit the road again, destined for Northern BC via a different route along Cassiar Highway (#37). Next stop: Stewart B.C. and Hyder Alaska.
Thanks for reading 🙂
Liz & Antoine